divorce, Ex, family, marriage, narcissists

Carolyn Hax says, “There isn’t enough hell for this no!”

This morning, as I was waking up to another Monday morning, I happened to read a letter to an advice column in the Washington Post (it’s unlocked for people who don’t subscribe). Sometimes letters to Carolyn Hax trigger me a little bit. And then I read other people’s comments, and I get triggered all the more. That’s what happened this morning. So now I need to vent in my blog. Below is the letter that got me all hot and bothered:

Dear Carolyn: I very recently had a baby with my boyfriend of several years. We were both married when we met, but after developing feelings for each other we divorced our spouses and committed to each other. Neither marriage was fulfilling, but I’m on very good terms with my ex as we co-parent our children as a united team.

My boyfriend’s ex-wife, however, has continued a pattern of manipulative and controlling behavior. For example, she told my boyfriend that the pastor at their church expects him to apologize to the church leaders for having divorced his wife. When my boyfriend sought to clarify this with the pastor, the pastor was stunned and assured him she never had a conversation like that with the ex-wife.

His 16-year-old, “Sam,” also refuses to meet the baby without his mother present. And JUST his mother present. My boyfriend is desperate to reconnect with his son (whose estrangement is enabled by the ex) and thinks meeting the baby will soften his son’s heart. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the conditions. For context: I’ve learned his ex-wife has on multiple occasions made fun of the name we chose for our daughter. She also demanded to know all sorts of intimate details about me, such as my plans for breastfeeding.

His ex-wife has been pushing hard to meet the baby. My boyfriend says she and Sam are a package deal. But my mama instincts are screaming that my baby is not safe around this woman. She recently made it clear she expects to meet the baby soon, whether Sam does or not.

I am obviously sleep-deprived and hormones are crashing, but am I being unreasonable? I know she will someday meet her, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for her to have this experience with my newborn.

— Mama Bear

I actually liked Carolyn’s advice. Her first sentence summed it up nicely. She wrote, “There isn’t enough hell for this no.” I totally agree with her. I’ve never had a child, but I can plainly see how inappropriate this demand is. But other people didn’t see it Carolyn’s way at all. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, because we’re dealing with people in a culture who automatically see men and any subsequent female partners at fault when a heterosexual relationship falls apart. And some people seem to think that the jilted woman is automatically entitled to whatever she wants. Can you believe the ex wife in the above example thinks she’s entitled to meet the baby even without her son in tow?

To Carolyn’s credit, she simply looked at what was written in the letter. She didn’t attempt to recreate the letter from the ex wife’s perspective, as one reader did. It’s not that I don’t think it’s useful to consider the ex wife’s perspective so much, as that the person who did it added details to the situation that didn’t exist in the original letter. I saw a lot of people projecting their own opinions and experiences into this situation, complicating what, to me, looks like a pretty cut and dried situation. The letter writer has a brand new baby. It’s HER baby. She’s the mom, and she gets to decide who is around her newborn baby. Ex wife has ZERO standing to demand anything regarding the letter writer’s brand new baby, her son with the boyfriend notwithstanding. Below was one commenter’s take.

Um… did this person miss the part where the EX said her ex husband needed to apologize to church leaders for the divorce? And the church leader said the conversation never took place? Also, the original letter says that the couple had been together for several years, and made no mention of the mom’s age. And personally, I think gifts related to breastfeeding are inappropriate, unless it’s something the person specifically requested.

As for “Sam”, my comment would be that it’s regrettable that he evidently doesn’t want to meet his half-sister. He can meet her when he grows up, if he wants to. But his mom is not in this, and needs to butt out immediately. She has absolutely no right to demand to meet the baby, at all.

I write this from the perspective of a second wife whose husband was denied access to his daughters for many years. One of them finally came around five years ago, and we continually find out more about the total fuckery that went on during those years they weren’t talking and continues to go on today. I know, in our case, there really is a wacko ex involved. I also know that when there’s a wacko ex, you have to be careful not to give ’em an inch, or they will take a mile. The bit about the fabricated church leader story, coupled with the demands to know about breastfeeding habits, makes me think the ex in this story could be a bit looney.

I also write this as a woman who DID NOT have an affair with a married man, but many people assume that I broke up his marriage to his ex wife, simply because people often think that about second or subsequent wives and girlfriends. Many people commenting made the assumption that this couple had an affair. Nowhere in the letter does it say that. It’s entirely possible this couple met and had a platonic relationship until they got divorced. That’s how it happened between Bill and me.

We met online in a chat room back in late 1999. Both of us were lonely. I was single and in graduate school. He and Ex had separated because he had decided to rejoin the Army full time. She was already dating #3. Bill and I chatted for three whole months before he finally sent me an email explaining his situation. I was shocked by the email and sorry about Bill’s marriage breaking up, but I never expected to ever meet him in person, let alone marry him. I had never thought to ask him about his marital status, because we weren’t talking about or doing intimate stuff that would necessitate my knowledge of his marital status. Our relationship at that time consisted entirely of chatting online and emails. We also lived in different states and time zones, and at the time, I had never met anyone offline that I had originally met on the Internet.

A couple of months after Bill explained his situation to me, it was time for that infamous Easter confrontation in his father’s house, where Ex dramatically presented an ultimatum that Bill bend to her will, or dissolve the marriage. She knew nothing about me or my existence, and I had absolutely NOTHING to do with her ultimatum. She didn’t find out about me until we had been dating for about eight months; by that time, #3 was already living in the house Bill was still paying for, and had proposed to her a couple of times.

At the time Ex demanded the divorce, I was just Bill’s Internet acquaintance, anyway. We were completely platonic until after his divorce, which happened less than nine months after we encountered each other online. Bill decided to accept Ex’s divorce proposal because he knew his marriage wasn’t working and wouldn’t get better. He was tired of living hand to mouth, and wanted to have a job that paid better than factory work. He loved the Army; it’s his vocation. And he and Ex have nothing in common, other than their kids and where they went to high school.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Bill when the idea first came up. When were still talking online a year later, I agreed to it. And even after the first in person meeting, I wasn’t sure where our friendship was going.

About three months after that dramatic Easter scene, their divorce was final. Bill and I met in person almost a year later, when the Army sent him on a work trip to the city where I was living at the time. That’s when we started dating offline, as Bill later relocated to Virginia, which is my home state. On long weekends, I would drive from South Carolina to Virginia to see him, and he would sometimes return the favor. We did not have a sexual relationship until two weeks after our wedding.

I know some people might not believe me, but I swear it’s the truth, and yes, of course it’s possible. Neither of us were much into dating when we were growing up. When I met Bill, he was my first boyfriend since high school, and he is my only sexual partner, ever. Besides Ex, I am his only partner. And if we can do it that way, anyone can.

I’m not implying that what happened in my case is what happened in the letter writer’s situation, only that it could have happened that way. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that this couple had an affair before they divorced their ex spouses. All it says is that they were both in unfulfilling marriages, and that they had been together for a few years before their daughter was born. No, they aren’t married, but not everyone wants or needs to be married to have children. God knows, that happens every day, although personally, I would not want to have a baby out of wedlock. But that’s just me… and at my age, it’s no longer a possibility, anyway.

“Sam” is estranged from his dad. Regrettably, that’s not uncommon when parents divorce, and it’s often the fathers who wind up alienated. The letter writer’s boyfriend obviously loves his son and wants to be in his life. It sounds like his ex wife is not facilitating things, which is also a common and, perhaps, even an understandable reaction after divorce. A lot of people are bitter after a divorce, and that leads to asking other people to take sides, especially if they are the custodial parents of a child that came from the relationship. But you know what? In two years, Sam will be an adult, and he can make his own choices.

If Sam’s parents’ divorce is the most painful thing he ever deals with, he’s going to be lucky. Maybe his father is a jerk, but maybe he’s not. It will be up to Sam to decide if he really wants to jettison his father forever. He may eventually realize that this isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. But, it could turn out that after a few years and some perspective, Sam may come to realize that he was used as a weapon. Or maybe that isn’t the situation. Either way, it’s not up to him or his mother to dictate, if, when, or how he meets his half-sister. At age 16, he’s allowed to say no to visitation with his dad, even if it’s not the wisest decision. At age 18, it will be entirely up to him, legally speaking. Of course, if his mother is anything like Ex is, she might still make it extremely difficult for the wounds to heal. It might take a few years of adulthood before the blinders come off and Sam is ready to have a relationship with his father on his own terms.

In twenty years of marriage, I have only met my husband’s daughters in person once, and that was many years ago, because his ex wife refused to cooperate and actively sabotaged the loving relationship Bill once had with his kids. She did this for purely vindictive, selfish, narcissistic reasons. And now, younger daughter can see, plain as day, what happened, because she’s been treated in the same disrespectful way that Bill was. Now that they’re finally speaking, younger daughter is finding out things she hadn’t known, and I have a feeling that some of what she’s learning is very upsetting. Pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together… and if I’m honest, I worry what will happen when she finally understands just what she was denied when she was growing up. Her mother betrayed her by alienating her from her father and trying to force her to bond with #3, a man who clearly doesn’t care about her.

For Bill’s part, he now very much regrets not fighting much harder for his daughters. That was a terrible mistake. All he can do now is be there for the present and future, if they want him around. On the other hand, we’ve also learned that life continues to go on if there’s estrangement. There are some things you can’t control, like trying to force a horse to drink water. I would say reconnecting with estranged children often falls into this category. Sometimes these situations happen even when there hasn’t been a divorce. One person can’t control how another person feels or reacts. Ha ha… Ex actually said that to Bill once. “I can’t help how you feel.” Well, that goes for her, too… It goes for EVERYONE.

Another one of Ex’s expressions that Bill brought into our marriage is “Murder will out.” I had never heard that expression before I married Bill, but he’s said it many times over the years. And I can see by Ex’s very public social media accounts that she says it, too. Things are coming home to roost now, and I suspect they could get very dramatic soon. I probably shouldn’t read Carolyn Hax’s advice column, because letters like the one I read this morning are still very triggering for me. Our situation is extreme, but it’s been educational for me, and it’s taught me that stereotypical explanations of situations aren’t always accurate. Many commenters were assuming that the boyfriend in this letter was a spineless coward who cheated. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.

But… bottom line is, the ex wife in this situation has absolutely no standing to demand that the letter writer surrender her baby for a private meeting with the ex and “Sam”. As I mentioned up post, I have never been a mother myself, but I would imagine that those mama bear instincts are there for very good reason. Yes, she’s the girlfriend, but she’s also the MOM of that baby, and it’s her job to protect her child. So she should politely tell the ex to fuck off, if she deems it appropriate. If it means Sam doesn’t meet his half-sister for the time being, so be it.

Edited to add…. Sorry, this letter really got under my skin. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of upsetting new information that has me a bit spun up.

Standard
communication, family, mental health, psychology

Once more with feeling…. “Get down off the cross, SMIL!”

I could certainly write more about my banking woes today, especially since I just read news that indicates that my misgivings with USAA are not unwarranted. They just got hit with huge fines “for failing to timely report thousands of suspicious transactions by its customers.” I don’t know that this incident has much to do with my current issues with USAA, which mainly have to do with them erroneously flagging my account for fraud, but then missing actual fraud… and then when I shifted payment methods because I don’t have access to the violated account, I got another false fraud alert. I called about that, and spoke to a very rude customer service guy who basically treated me like he wanted me to “keep sweet”. I had some fun tweeting at USAA last night, noting that I wasn’t the only one who is pissed off at them. Anyway, Bill and I are now hunting for a new place to do business. I think we found one, so today’s business will be to get the ball rolling with that, so at least I can start the process of divorcing USAA. I am done drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now… on to today’s topic. This one is about family, so if you find my “family” posts inappropriate, you best move on to the next Internet station. I’m in the mood to vent.

A few years ago, I blogged about how my husband’s stepmother has a habit of sending manipulative private messages as a means of getting people to pay attention to her. Her late husband, Bill’s dad, also used to lay guilt trips in a bid for attention. Since my father-in-law is now dead, I’m just going to focus this rant on SMIL.

SMIL used to send manipulative messages to Bill, mostly about how his dad was “getting old” and wanted to see Bill. Bill would get really upset about the PMs, which were loaded with fear, obligation, and guilt. She finally quit sending them when Bill had a rather direct discussion with her about her guilt mongering ploys. He told her that if his dad wanted to see or talk to him, all he had to do was place a phone call, send an email, and make a mature, direct request, instead of sending passive aggressive text messages and private messages on Facebook.

SMIL has apparently been hosting Bill’s ex wife all week. At one point, SMIL (or perhaps Ex using SMIL’s phone) tried to call younger daughter. She decided not to answer the call, because she’s busy. And she also didn’t answer because when she does call SMIL back, SMIL doesn’t bother to answer the phone and “ghosts” her. Younger daughter, thankfully, is pretty smart and resilient, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to drop everything to attend to her step grandmother’s “needs”. But because she’s a decent, basically caring person, these texts are still upsetting and troublesome.

Younger daughter is pregnant and has two young children. Her husband has a demanding job, and they don’t have tons of money. But SMIL apparently doesn’t care… or maybe she just hasn’t considered what’s going on in younger daughter’s life right now. She still sends those maudlin text messages that are all about her. I just want to tell her to get down off the cross!

We are preparing a box of gifts for younger daughter, which we picked up in France a couple of weeks ago. In the box, I have included a well worn copy of Dr. Susan Forward’s excellent book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I bought and read it years ago, when Bill and I were fairly newly married. It offered great insight into the emotional blackmail perpetrated by Ex, SMIL, and, on occasion, late FIL. I could just send younger daughter a new copy of that book, but I want to send her my copy because I see it as a sign of solidarity. Having watched Bill deal with these bullying tactics over the years, I have an idea of what she’s going through.

Last night, after I finished complaining about USAA, Bill and I talked about this situation. I suggested to Bill that maybe he should ask his daughter if she would be friends with someone who treated her in that way. Legally, SMIL is basically not much more than friend. Younger daughter doesn’t owe her anything. But because SMIL has known her for so long, she knows younger daughter cares about her and values their relationship. So SMIL uses that caring nature as a tool against younger daughter. SMIL is also the type to hold grudges and declare people “dead to her”. But honestly, who’s got the time for such nonsense? Especially when there’s so much else going on in the world?

I was prompted to write about this today because of an article I read in Carolyn Hax’s column in the Washington Post. A woman wrote in about how her sister-in-law loves ski trips and tries to guilt her and her husband into going on them with her. But, for many completely valid reasons, the letter writer doesn’t like ski trips. She writes that her sister-in-law is the type to get drunk and cry when people say no to her. She doesn’t want to be subjected to the guilt trip.

You know what my response is to that? “Just say no.” Seriously. That was Carolyn’s advice, too. If sister-in-law has a meltdown, that’s on her. Hang up the phone. Block her on social media. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s abuse. Or, if that seems much too harsh, just tell the sister-in-law, in a kind way, that you don’t like skiing. Then offer to participate in a different activity that you like better. If you know sister-in-law also enjoys it, so much the better.

Bill loved his father very much, but he didn’t enjoy calling him. Every time he did, his dad would lay tremendous guilt trips on him about not visiting more often or calling him. But then when Bill would call, his dad would be busy. Or he would lay a bunch of manipulative crap on him designed to make him feel bad. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of guilt when they make a phone call? I know I don’t. Life is painful enough as it is. If a person’s aim is to get someone to call more often, shouldn’t they make the call a pleasant experience? Seems logical to me that that would be the goal.

I do understand that it’s hard not to be a victim of shaming. I’ve been there myself a lot of times. I have a sister who used to try to manipulate me in similar ways. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant to say no to her. But eventually, she came to realize that I make my own decisions. She finally quit with the emotional blackmail, and life has been relatively more peaceful ever since.

If you do give in to the shaming, chances are you’ll just feel resentment. If someone really loves and cares about you, they don’t want you to feel shame and resentment. A healthy relationship should be respectful, kind, and even loving. It shouldn’t be based on fear, obligation, and guilt. I know I can tell when someone resents me and is faking being nice. I’d rather be alone than be with someone who feels compelled to spend time with me.

Anyway… I know younger daughter does love SMIL. She cares very much about her. But these messages are not welcome or helpful in preserving the relationship. I also know that if younger daughter tells SMIL this, it probably won’t go over too well. But again… you can’t control how other people feel or react. If the relationship is really that important, SMIL can try to adapt. I doubt she’ll ever change, but she can certainly try… or suffer the consequences.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
communication, controversies, expressions, family

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Yeah, sing it, Avril…

Apologies for the old hit from Avril Lavigne. I’m not even a big fan of Avril’s music, but this song seems appropriate for today’s topic, which comes courtesy of Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. I had other topics in mind to write about today, but it’s Sunday, and I figured it would be better to write about something less serious. And today’s post from Carolyn Hax is definitely lighter than my subject matter has been lately.

Here’s the letter in question, which was adapted from an online discussion:

Hi Carolyn! 

I’ve recently started to attend family functions with my boyfriend. He always says I don’t need to bring anything, but I never go anywhere empty-handed.

His mom is preparing the entire meal for the next event, including desserts. I’m a baker and usually bring desserts but Boyfriend says mom might be offended if I bring a dessert when she’s already taking care of that. This party is for his sister’s birthday, and I don’t know her well enough to choose a gift, and he won’t give me any ideas because he insists I don’t need to bring a gift. I asked if I could at least get a card, and he said he’ll add my name to his card — but he and his sister have been passing the same card back and forth for 12 years as a joke. This is their thing and I don’t want to impose.

But I just can’t fathom going empty-handed. Any ideas as to what I can bring?

— Never Empty-Handed

Carolyn’s advice to the letter writer was to try to call the boyfriend’s mom and ask her directly what she should bring for his sister, if the boyfriend won’t “work with her on this”. She also said that the letter writer should explain to him that telling her that she doesn’t need to bring anything is easy for him to say, and maybe even well-intentioned by letting her off the hook, but it actually puts her in an awkward position. Carolyn further writes:

He is seeing this through the family lens, but you are not family and you’re newish to everyone, so you don’t know how you’ll be judged.

You want to make a good impression. If he wants to set you up to succeed, then he either needs to give you a token way to contribute, or be more thoughtful in explaining his family culture to you, or connect you to his mom (or whoever’s hosting) to find out for yourself.

This advice makes sense to me, I guess. However, there is also hopefully a good chance that Boyfriend is telling the truth. It’s possible that his mom and/or his sister really don’t want her to bring anything. Moreover, I would expect him to tell me the truth. So my response, which so far is being well-received was this:

I would just take the boyfriend at his word. If it goes awry, then I’ll know I can’t trust what he says and move on.

She can always warn the guy that if he’s not being truthful, and she shows up with nothing and his mom or sister thinks it’s rude, that will mean that she can’t trust him to be honest, and that might mean they shouldn’t continue the relationship. There is a good chance, though, that the mom and/or his sister really are among those people who doesn’t want guests to bring things. My mom is one of those people. She’s at a point in her life that she’s trying to get rid of things she doesn’t need. I have been the recipient of many lovely gifts people have given her that she just didn’t want or weren’t her taste.

If you think about it, bringing something for the host/hostess actually can lead to embarrassing situations. Here’s an example from my personal history.

Recently, I wrote about how I have a phobia of mushrooms. I can’t eat them or touch them, and I prefer not to look at them or smell them. One time, years ago, a woman invited me to her house for dinner. She was a vegetarian. Because I wanted to be a good guest, I baked two loaves of bread and brought one of them with me. Guess what… hostess wasn’t a fan of bread. And guess what else? The dinner she made was LOADED with mushrooms. And yes, it was very embarrassing. I explained to her, honestly, why I couldn’t partake of the dinner. Fortunately, she had a good laugh at my expense, and even told some of her colleagues about it.

People love to leave comments on the Washington Post’s Facebook page about this post, when it’s clear that they didn’t read the article. It’s mainly because they don’t want to pay for a subscription. If they had read the article, they would see that other people offered reasons why bringing the usual go-to gifts of wine, flowers, and candy might not be the best idea. Here’s what a couple of people wrote:

Re: Guest: Yes, please arrive empty-handed. I find hosting people who are compelled to bring something, anything, very tiring. Fine to ask if you can contribute to the meal, for instance, but if the answer is no, then accept that.

— Tired

Tired: Yes, yes. When I tell my guests what (not) to bring, I want them to take me at my word, not send me looking for a vase for the lovely and well-meant flowers.

In the case of someone new being invited into the fold, though, the standards shift a bit. The balance of power is more precarious. The boyfriend can be more helpful here. That’s all.

I have a policy that when people say they want no gifts, I take them at their word. I assume they had a reason for making that statement. If they didn’t mean it, they shouldn’t have written or said it, and they shouldn’t be upset when people abide by it. If Mom is annoyed with the girlfriend for coming to visit the family empty-handed that early in the relationship, that’s another sign that the letter writer might want to consider, should things go further in that relationship. I would hope that the boyfriend’s mom and other family members would be just as eager to make a good impression on his girlfriend, especially if there is a chance she might one day marry him, or otherwise engage in a more serious relationship. Because– that could one day be her mother-in-law… and you want to pay attention to red flags. Divorce is expensive, and marriage can be challenging enough without a mother-in-law with whom you don’t mesh. Fortunately, my own mother-in-law is awesome, and my mom adores Bill.

A lot of commenters seem to think that the letter writer should just ignore what her boyfriend says, and go against his advice on dealing with his family. I don’t know about other people, but it would really annoy me if I told Bill about what to expect from my family– people that I’ve known my whole life– and he didn’t believe me. I can understand the letter writer’s dilemma in not wanting to be rude, but I would consider not trusting my boyfriend’s word as kind of rude, too. I’m big on trust, and I don’t like it when people don’t take me seriously, even though I joke around a lot. Joking around is one thing, but I’m not the kind of person who would deliberately set someone up to fail. If I care enough to bring you home to meet the family, that means I’m serious. And I would not tell you not to bring a gift if I knew that not bringing a gift would make my mom or sister think you were a jerk. I would hope for the same consideration.

I also noticed that the people commenting were suggesting gifts that could be problematic. That bottle of wine might not be appreciated by someone who is fundie Baptist or LDS, struggles with alcoholism or some other health issue, or someone who just doesn’t drink. Flowers might not be appreciated by someone who has severe allergies or, like Madonna, hates hydrangeas… or whatever other flower. Some people don’t like plants because they have a brown thumb, and kill everything they touch.

Ouch!

Or maybe it will be an awkward exchange, like when Melania Trump brought Michelle Obama a fancy Tiffany box on Inauguration Day…

Nice of Melania to bring a gift. Too bad the Trumps didn’t have enough class to show up to the 2021 Presidential Inauguration.

Someone who prides themselves on being a great cook or baker might not appreciate it if you take it upon yourself to bring dessert. A lot of people go to great lengths to plan when they have a party. If you show up with a cake from a bakery or even one you’ve made yourself, it may send a very embarrassing message that won’t be well received. Or, again, it could turn out that someone has diabetes and has to watch their sugar or carbs for health reasons. I had a friend, years ago, who had an allergy to chocolate. She loved chocolate, but couldn’t eat it, because it made her break out in hives. Imagine showing up at her house with a lovely, expensive chocolate cake that took hours to bake. Hopefully, other people can enjoy it.

Here’s what I think is a fairly foolproof gift– sincere gratitude for the invitation, and authentic, attentive, and appreciative company. That’s it. Maybe that gratitude could be augmented by a handwritten note expressing thanks, mailed a day or two after the gathering. One of the nicest “gifts” I have ever received from anyone was a lovely, handwritten note from Bill’s younger daughter, who was considerate enough to think of me when he went to visit her in March 2020. I will treasure it always, for there’s no other gift like it. It came from the heart and, best of all, it cost her almost nothing in money, but yet it’s priceless to me. I will keep and treasure it always, especially since it doesn’t take up any room or collect dust.

Now THIS is what I call a good– and very classy– gift. There’s not another like it.

There’s no reason to sweat the small stuff. There’s no reason to make things more complicated than it needs to be. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. While giving a small gift to a host or hostess is usually considered good etiquette, when it comes down to it, the best etiquette is considering what will make the other person feel most comfortable and at ease. I would expect that the boyfriend in this situation knows his family well enough to advise his girlfriend honestly. She should take what he says at face value. If it goes wrong, that will be a sign of things that could be coming in the future. At the very least, it could be a signal that he’s not going to be straightforward about other things.

Damned right.

Some of the comments on this remind me of the American attitude about tipping. So many people seem to think that everyone loves gifts. Not everyone does… just like not everyone expects or appreciates a tip. Seriously… in some cultures, tipping is actually considered rude or just isn’t a thing. American culture is not the end all, be all, and there’s a lot to consider in any relationship. If you don’t know the guy’s parents, I actually think it’s better to wait before you bring a gift, unless you’ve been assured that they would appreciate one. Gifts can go awry. Besides, meeting new people is a two-way street. I see no reason to complicate that meeting by adding in an unnecessary element, like what gift to bring. Especially when it’s been made clear, by someone who should be in the know, that gifts aren’t expected or even desired. I think it’s smart to learn about the culture in any new situation before assuming you know what should be done.

Standard
Ex, family, rants

This letter in Carolyn Hax’s column really hits home…

This post has brought out some of my deeply ingrained, still raw anger toward Ex. It comes out in this post, and there is profanity… Proceed with caution. And please, if any readers feel compelled to lecture me about how inappropriate my anger is, do me a favor and buzz off. My anger is perfectly reasonable and justified, and I can write about it on my blog if I want to. That’s what blogs are for.

As some readers know, I like to read advice columns. One column I read fairly regularly is Carolyn Hax’s. I think she’s very sensible and gives good advice. A recent letter in The Washington Post gave me pause. Here it is.

Dear Carolyn: We never spent time with my dad’s extended family, but one of his siblings and I have a lot of similar interests. I emailed her once to ask something, and we now exchange emails regularly. We haven’t spoken since I was a teen and I’m in my 30s now.

My parents are Not Pleased. My mom is actually really upset that I am talking with her; in high school she made me stop talking to her completely. My father just tells me she will eventually hate me, give it time, she’s a horrible person and not really interested in me at all.

Let’s skip over the emotional baggage that comes from all the times my parents told me people have no interest in me and are just using me. There’s clearly something that really bothers my mom but she won’t openly discuss it with me, so I can only guess what the issue is. I would not be surprised if my mom actively sabotaged my relationship with this person in ways I don’t know about when I was younger, and now she’s afraid it’ll come up.

Am I wrong to continue talking with her?”

I was glad to see that Carolyn gave this writer good advice (in my opinion). She reminded the writer that she’s in her 30s, and she has the right to speak to anyone she wants. If her parents have a valid reason to discourage the connection, they need to explain themselves honestly. And even then, it should be up to the letter writer, who is in her 30s, for God’s sake, to make the choice as to whether or not she should speak to her relatives.

If you have followed my blog for any time, you probably know why I feel the way I do. It’s mainly because my husband and his daughters were estranged for many years. Ex wanted to punish Bill for agreeing to her divorce demands, so she sabotaged his relationship with his daughters. That was absolutely wrong for her to do, although it was not surprising that she did it. She did it to her first husband, too. Then, she claimed that both of her ex husbands were awful people and she was simply protecting the children from their “shitty fathers”.

In the one and only email I ever sent to Ex, I explained that if she was being truthful about her exes being shitty fathers, then she clearly has bad judgment and terrible taste in men, and she should not have married a third time and had more children. Every time she divorces, she forces her kids to be estranged from their fathers and their families. That’s very hard on them, and totally unfair. If she was really as good of a mother as she claims she is, her focus should have been on raising her “traumatized” children, and helping them recover from her poor choices in fathers for them. Otherwise, she’s just a liar, and is simply being spiteful and mean. And that makes her a shitty, toxic mother. Having been married to Bill for 19 years, I know, without a doubt, that Bill is definitely not an irresponsible father, as Ex tried to make him out to be. His ex wife just hates her exes more than she loves her kids.

When a person becomes an adult, they have the perfect right to make their own choices. But having parents who impose their petty bullshit grievances with other people on their children, simply because they’re their children, and they demand “loyalty” from their children, can cause making those decisions to be difficult. I know Bill’s daughter didn’t summon the courage to speak to Bill until she was about 23 years old and married. And even then, she was terrified to speak to him, even though she remembered him to be kind and loving.

Bill and his younger daughter missed out on about twelve precious years together, all because Ex imposed her hateful craziness on her own children. Younger daughter could have lost Bill forever when he went to Iraq, or when 9/11 happened. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now they can bond. Younger daughter is also talking to her grandmother again, after Ex tried to ruin that relationship. Younger daughter and MIL have a lot in common, and they clearly love each other. They never should have been forced into estrangement simply because of Ex’s manipulative and toxic ploys.

I remember when younger daughter and Bill started talking again. She said she didn’t want to tell her mother about it. She said it would be an “unhappy conversation”. Ex eventually did discover that younger daughter and Bill were in contact. Quite predictably, Ex gave younger daughter a ration of shit, telling her that Bill had really “hurt” her and that the divorce was “so painful” for her.

But Ex is the one who initiated the divorce in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She’s the one who shacked up with #3 in a house Bill paid for. She’s the one who practically forced Bill to join a restrictive, culty religion, and caused him extreme financial distresses in the forms of bankruptcy and foreclosure. She’s the one who tried to ruin his relationship with his family of origin. And she is the one who sexually assaulted him. She has some nerve claiming that Bill ever “hurt” her. She was not the one who was left with literal scars in private areas of her body.

I think it’s interesting that Ex seems to have absolutely no concept of how painful it was for Bill to be divorced, forced to pay her half his salary for years, and was STILL prevented from having a relationship with his daughters, whom he has always loved very much. There was no reason why Bill should have been denied visitation with his daughters. I have often wish he’d taken her to court and either forced her to comply, or taken custody of them. But he allowed her to leave his finances so depleted that that option was out of the question.

Ex told outrageous lies about Bill to those girls, and even forced them to write hateful letters to him, disowning him. Yes, I am still pissed off about it. I was there to witness the pain she inflicted with her lies and vengeance. She lied about me, too, and made me out to be a horrible person… or maybe just a whore. And yes, I know the truth about myself, and I know that being angry about what’s already done isn’t productive. But I can’t help it. Reading letters like this one bring up the pain again, and piss me off anew.

Older daughter is still estranged, and continues to miss out on knowing her wonderful father. Maybe older daughter wouldn’t think he’s as wonderful as I do, but she’s never tried to find out for herself. She just takes her mother’s word for it. And, you know what? It’s her loss. All I can do is hope she’s happy.

It’s hard to tell why the letter writer’s parents have such an acrimonious relationship with the writer’s extended family. Whatever it is, it’s obviously between the parents and the relative, and the letter writer has never been clued in to what happened. Seems to me the parents need to come clean and offer a *rational and provable* explanation as to why there is so much strife, if they expect their daughter to consider heeding their wishes.

If they aren’t willing to explain what the problem is, then she should tell them to mind their own business. I did that with my own dad when he tried to involve himself in my personal affairs. It was very liberating for me, and shocking for him.

Either way, the letter writer should still initially proceed with caution, in case there was a good reason for the split. But my guess is that the rift was due to someone being stubborn, offended, or just plain petty. And there’s no reason why an adult should be compelled to choose a side in a situation like this one, especially when the person who is imposing the shunning can’t or won’t offer an explanation.

I also don’t think there’s any reason why the writer’s parents need to know who she talks to, particularly if she isn’t living in their home. It’s simply none of their business.

I wish this letter writer well. I understand her dilemma. It sounds like she’s doing some healing within her family, which is a great thing to do. She may find that reconnecting with this long estranged extended family member brings her much joy, and new insight into her own origins. As an adult, she has the perfect right to seek this healing and potential joy. Her parents need to butt out… or, as I frequently like to put it in my profane way, they need to fuck off.

Standard
divorce, Ex, family, love, marriage

Proud to be a “good strong woman”…

Keb’ Mo’ has a new album coming out. I love his music, so I’ve preordered it. So far, two songs have been released. One is a remake of the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lean on Me.” The other is a song that features Darius Rucker. It’s called “Good Strong Woman”. I listened to that song this morning after having breakfast with Bill. He’s staying home again today, because he’s taking a couple more online classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Bill’s chance to study Jung directly from the source is one great thing that has come out of living in Germany. It’s really something he enjoys doing, which is as gratifying for me to see as it is for him to experience.

Below is the video for Keb’ Mo’s new song.

I love this song and its message. I try to be a “good strong woman” for Bill.

Our breakfast conversation was about a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax that was printed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter writer is having a disagreement with her father over her treatment of his wife. Below is the letter in question:

Wow… my first thoughts? What a brat!

Regular readers probably know why this letter gave me pause. Technically, I am the stepmother to Bill’s two daughters. I’ve only met them in person one time. For many years, they were estranged from their dad, mainly because their mother is extremely toxic and immature and she was more interested in punishing Bill for not letting her continue to abuse him, than being a kind and attentive mother and a “good strong woman” to her current husband. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Bill and his daughters should have been kept apart, other than their mother’s warped and extremely petty vindictiveness. And if I sound bitter and snotty, so be it. I know Bill, and unfortunately, I know enough about his ex wife. I am definitely not the whole problem in our case.

Fortunately, Bill’s younger daughter has come around, and it’s plain that she’s not like her mother. So when Bill and his daughter Skype, I’m happy about it. Usually, unless I happen to be sitting in the room when they Skype, I give them their privacy. Almost two years ago, Bill finally got to see his daughter in person, after 15 years of separation. He met his grandchildren. They had plenty of time to talk privately, because when he was in Utah seeing his daughter, I was in Germany, hanging out with Arran. I encouraged this gathering, and was gratified when it went well. Bill’s older daughter remains estranged, but she’s 30 years old and has to make her own choices. So be it.

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I empathize with the letter writer’s stepmother. On the other hand, I also recognize that there isn’t a lot of information here. We don’t know how old the letter writer was when his dad married his second wife. We don’t know the circumstances of his split from the letter writer’s mother. All we know is that stepmom is only ten years older than her stepdaughter, and unlike my stepdaughters and me, this stepdaughter and her stepmom actually have a relationship. It sounds like their relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t a particularly good one.

I appreciated Carolyn’s response to this writer. I think she hit the nail on the head, too. Below is her take on this situation.

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”

Ah.

How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.

Right?

Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn’t be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.

I know a lot of people who don’t know our story might want to “come at me”. I’ve heard many times over the years about how I should “be the bigger person” and “recognize that I’m an ‘interloper’ in an established relationship” and, even worse, some have even asked me if I broke up Bill’s first marriage. The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after his divorce.

In four days, Bill and I will have been married for 19 years. He’s almost eight years older than I am. If had been the mother of his daughters, I would have been a very young mom. But, at this point, Bill and I have been together about twice as long as he was with his ex wife. We are extremely compatible, which makes me very happy, because when I was in college, I went through seven roommates… and even that was with two semesters of living alone.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. One of those roommates basically kicked me out of the room after our first week of freshman year so she could bunk with the party girl across the hall. One moved in for part of a semester because she got kicked out of her room for being busted with pot. That roommate later got kicked out of school for not going to class. And another was a student teacher, who was only at school for a few weeks until she went home to student teach. I got along fine with three roommates, and barely tolerated a fourth. We simply weren’t compatible.

There are always extenuating circumstances, and things aren’t always as they seem at face value. Still, I had friends who found their besties during freshman year and roomed together the whole time we were in college. Some of them are now divorced, even if they’re still buddies with their former roommates. I, on the other hand, couldn’t find a really compatible roommate, but I did find a husband who is just about perfect for me. So what if I came second? Bill and I are married. We love each other. I am now part of his family, and he’s part of mine. And because we love each other and are family, neither of us has to be alone as we get older. I’m so glad that Bill’s younger daughter understands that, and supports it.

When I read the letter in Carolyn Hax’s column today, what really stood out to me was just how self-centered and petty the writer came across. The line about her father’s wife being “only 10 years older” reveals what I think is one of many bones of contention this lady has with her dad and his wife. She mentions there is “so much more to the story”, but chooses to mention the age difference instead of some other reason why she and stepmom aren’t friends. That, to me, is very telling. The age difference obviously really bugs her.

However, if stepmom was a legal adult when she and the letter writer’s dad got married, the age difference shouldn’t matter, especially since they have been married for 24 years. A marriage that has lasted that long probably works well on some level. If stepmom wasn’t a legal adult when she got married, then she was a victim, and shouldn’t be blamed. Either way, it sounds like dad and stepmom love and respect each other, and letter writer should, in turn, understand that, and grow the fuck up.

The fact that the letter writer’s dad is supporting his wife’s complaints about his daughter’s apparent toxic, petty behavior reveal that this isn’t a marriage strictly of convenience. I do know there are marriages that are like that– people get married solely for money, security, or some other commodity. For example, I suspect Ex and her husband have a loveless marriage, based on what I know about her first two husbands and the way she reportedly treats #3. But, based on the letter above, I don’t think that’s the situation for the letter writer’s dad and his wife. It sounds like the dad is supporting his wife. He has his wife’s back, not his daughter’s.

Oooh… now this would be exciting.

The daughter sounds like she is trying to dictate to her father the terms of their relationship. She’s trying to force him to choose between his wife and his daughter. It doesn’t sound like she’s considered the fact that he gets a vote, too. He may very well decide that his relationship with his wife, the woman with whom he shares a home, and presumably, a bed, is more important than a relationship with his grown daughter, who, at least in this letter, comes off as really petty and obnoxious. Like it or not, her dad has chosen to marry someone other than her mother. She should be grateful that he’s found love and isn’t alone. And yes, she should show some basic respect to her stepmother, just as she should to most people. Otherwise, why not simply go no contact?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting. Lots of people are on “team stepmom”. Lots of people are supporting the letter writer. It’s true that the dad/husband is responsible for the fact that his daughter exists. Many people feel that a person’s children should always come first. Personally, I disagree with that, since children usually grow up to be adults, and they need to learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

If the dad decides that he’s willing to continue a relationship with his daughter without his wife’s involvement, that might work out fine. However, based on the way the dad reacted to his daughter’s behavior, it sounds like he’s putting his wife and marriage first. And that’s probably the best thing to do, in the long run. His daughter is grown up, now, so he should focus on living his life, making himself happy, and staying healthy. His daughter can fend for herself. If she doesn’t grow up and stop being so selfish, she may have to do that.

Divorce can really suck. It’s often expensive, painful, complicated, and heartbreaking. However, sometimes divorce is absolutely necessary. It was definitely necessary in Bill’s case. He couldn’t stay with his ex wife without risking his health, or even his life. And he should not have been expected to, especially not for the convenience of someone else– and certainly not for someone who is an adult. Bill’s stepmother had “issues” with Bill’s divorce, because it made it harder for her to see his kids, who technically aren’t even her grandchildren. She doesn’t know the whole story about everything that went wrong, or the most egregiously awful parts of the story, but she also didn’t have to live in that hellish situation. Bill did.

Maybe the letter writer had a legitimate gripe if she was a child when the divorce happened, and the stepmom was legitimately abusive to her in some way. She’s now a grown woman, though, and she probably needs to get over herself and accept her stepmother as a full member of the family. If she can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time she went no contact. Of course, going no contact is a big decision, and it can come with significant consequences. But sometimes it really is the healthy thing to do for everyone involved. Either way, it sounds like dad is sticking with his wife, and she’s going to have to accept that.

I don’t know what went wrong in the relationship between the letter writer’s parents, but obviously, they couldn’t be together. Her dad has now found someone to love, and they’ve been together for a long time, in spite of the daughter’s disdain and disrespect toward their marriage. If the letter writer loves her dad, she should understand and respect that, and stop trying to divide the family with petty foolishness. It sounds like he’s found himself a “good strong woman”, and she should simply be happy for him and try to co-exist with her. I’m sure the letter writer’s dad would want the same kind of strong and supportive partner for her.

Below are the lyrics to Keb’ Mo’s new song, “Good Strong Woman”.

Mama said, “Son, listen to me
That girl is T-R-O-U-B-L-E
So watch out, I know you love her but she’s not your friend
She’ll only be there long as you got money to spend”

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Hm, a good strong woman (strong woman)

She will never leave you if you treat her right
She’ll be there in the morning till the late of night
She’s the kind that’s never gonna let you down
Makes you put the bricks on the world around

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)

If you wanna make the bad times better
Make a good thing last forever

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Yeah, I’ll be a good strong woman

Oh, a good strong woman
She’s got your back, strong woman
Talking ’bout a good strong woman
(Good strong woman)

Standard